Nov. 19, 2008

After Our Daughter's Wedding

by Ellen Bass

While the remnants of cake
and half-empty champagne glasses
lay on the lawn like sunbathers lingering
in the slanting light, we left the house guests
and drove to Antonelli's pond.
On a log by the bank I sat in my flowered dress and cried.
A lone fisherman drifted by, casting his ribbon of light.
"Do you feel like you've given her away?" you asked.
But no, it was that she made it
to here, that she didn't
drown in a well or die
of pneumonia or take the pills.
She wasn't crushed
under the mammoth wheels of a semi
on highway 17, wasn't found
lying in the alley
that night after rehearsal
when I got the time wrong.
It's animal. The egg
not eaten by a weasel. Turtles
crossing the beach, exposed
in the moonlight. And we
have so few to start with.
And that long gestation—
like carrying your soul out in front of you.
All those years of feeding
and watching. The vulnerable hollow
at the back of the neck. Never knowing
what could pick them off—a seagull
swooping down for a clam.
Our most basic imperative:
for them to survive.
And there's never been a moment
we could count on it.

"After Our Daughter's Wedding" by Ellen Bass from Mules of Love. © BOA Editions, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1863 that Abraham Lincoln got up in front of about 15,000 people and delivered the Gettysburg Address, which begins, "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

It was a foggy, cold morning on this day in 1863. Lincoln arrived at the new national cemetery in Gettysburg at about 10 a.m. Around noon, the sun broke out as the crowds gathered on a hill overlooking the battlefield. A military band played, a local preacher offered a long prayer, and the headlining orator, Edward Everett, spoke for more than two hours. When Everett was finished, Lincoln got up and pulled his speech from his coat pocket. It consisted of 10 sentences, a total of 272 words. The audience was distracted by a photographer setting up his camera, and by the time Lincoln had finished his speech and sat down the audience didn't even realize he had spoken.

The scholar Garry Wills recently published a 320-page book on Lincoln's 272-word speech, Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America (2006). In it, Wills draws parallels between the Gettysburg Address and a funeral oration that Pericles gave during the Peloponnesian War. Pericles' Funeral Oration starts: "I shall begin with our ancestors," and it continues, "Thus choosing to die resisting, rather than to live submitting, they fled only from dishonour, but met danger face to face."

Scholars argue over the inspiration for Lincoln's last line, "government of the people, by the people, for the people." Lincoln owned a collection of sermons by the minister Theodore Parker, who said, "Democracy is direct self-government, over all the people, for all the people, by all the people." Other historians think that Lincoln got the idea from a speech by Daniel Webster, who said that the federal government was "made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people."

There are five known manuscripts of the Gettysburg Address. The earliest version is the copy he gave to his private secretary, John Nicolay, and it's thought to be the version he used for the oration at Gettysburg. It is two pages long — the first page is in ink on official Executive Mansion stationary, and the second is in pencil on lined paper. This version doesn't contain the words "under God" in the phrase "this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom."

Lincoln made one other copy at the time, which he gave to his other private secretary, John Hay, and then he wrote out three more copies in later years one for a benefit book and two for the historian and former statesman George Bancroft. Lincoln had to copy out two because the first one was written out incorrectly — on both sides of the paper — and so wouldn't go in Bancroft's book. The second copy for Bancroft is the only one that Lincoln signed his name to. It's the copy that has been reproduced on a widespread basis in books and photographs and leaflets, and it is considered the standard version of the speech.

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